WASHINGTON — He’s played Scrooge in the past, present and — most likely — the future.
Now, Edward Gero returns for his lucky seventh year at the annual Ford’s Theatre production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which runs now through Dec. 31.
“I think we’ve done about 375 performances all told, probably a little bit more than that. It’s a great story to tell, it’s a ritual, it’s a holiday tradition, and it’s a story of renewal, so it’s just great to tell the story every year and kick off the holiday season for Washington,” Gero tells WTOP.
Countless actors have played Scrooge over the years, but Gero’s favorite is Jim Backus voicing Mr. Magoo.
“That is my favorite. It’s still available, you can find it on YouTube, it’s hilarious. (My favorite live-action version) would be George C. Scott, that production was done I think in the ’80s. Earlier versions that I grew up with were Reginald Owen and Alistair Sim. (Sim’s) wake-up scene is just fantastic.”
But for theater goers in the nation’s capital, Gero is our beloved Scrooge, year in and year out.
“Each night you want to do it as if you’ve never done it before. You have to battle the sense of routine. There is a ritualization about it. … But what keeps it fresh is the other actors, their little changes in intonations or little tempo changes, and in fact, the audience makes it different every night. Some people respond to it differently. They laugh a little bit bigger, they get some of the jokes quicker, and others have a different sensibility. So that’s the other scene partner,” he says.
If the show is part of your annual holiday tradition, expect to see plenty of familiar faces including Felicia Curry as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Anne Stone as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Stephen Schmidt as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and James Konicek as Jacob Marley. You’ll also recognize Michael Bunce, who previously played a solicitor before landing the part of Bob Cratchit.
“We have a core of folks. The Ghost of Christmas, Past and Future have been the same for seven years. We’ve been doing it from the beginning of this version. … We’re all part of a team, and it’s just great to have the same folks back there every year. It certainly makes it easier for me,” he says.
If you’ve never seen the show before, expect to see the classic Dickens story you know and love, but with a series of Christmas carols woven into the production.
“That’s what’s unique about this production is that all the transitions are built around traditional Christmas carols, but using language from the 19th century, the original version of the carols. So, they’re not just there to stop the play to hear a Christmas carol, it actually moves the story forward, and there are appropriate numbers. For instance, in the scene where Ebenezer dances with Belle, it’s ‘Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day’ and they’re dancing,” he says.
In addition to being an uplifting holiday presentation, it’s also a unique ghost story.
“There’s flying effects, there’s a lot of fog, it’s very dark, the sound effects are fantastic, there’s lightning and thunder, it’s like being at a rock concert. In fact, I think the sound is probably scarier than the visual, because you can feel it and sense it,” he says.
Gero recommends the show for children ages five and up.
“This year we had two kids that needed to be taken out of the theater, especially when Marley showed up. It’s pretty scary. It’s just loud and there’s chains. But he comes to help Scrooge out. He’s a good guy in the end,” he says.
Surrounding these spooky ghosts and lively carols is a classic stage production in a historic setting.
“The magic in it is great. The effects are terrific. The costumes are beautiful. It’s as classic a production as you can imagine that’s perfect for the space at Ford’s. We’re in industrial 19th century England, which fits that building beautifully. It has that historical context around it,” he says.
That history is surprisingly relevant to 2015, with plenty of social commentary to go around. Few plays better prove that past is prologue, as Dickens warns against the evils of “ignorance and want” and gives Scrooge a dose of his own medicine: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
“He clearly is a social reformer, particularly with this play or plays like ‘Oliver’ in town as well (at Arena Stage). He was very concerned with the plight of the under class and making the world a better place for everybody. This play certainly speaks to that and those who have more than others. It’s a time to share and help others out and be charitable. Poverty is always with us, and in this day in age, the distribution of wealth is so acute. We talk about the 1 percenters and the 99 percenters and so forth. It’s a very real part of our conversation, and there are people who are in need.”
Rather than just “talk the talk,” the Ford’s production also “walks the walk.”
“We raise funds for a local food bank and homeless services organization. This year it’s N Street Village, so that’s really exciting. We feel like we’re actually making a difference. Not just doing a play, not just bringing the holiday spirit, but actually bringing it into action for the community,” he says.
Still, the show’s biggest gift might be the audience’s therapeutic look in the mirror, sparking gratitude for the things we love in our lives and reminding us we have the power to change the things we don’t.
“It’s scary to think about: how’s my life doing? How have I done? What’s the effect I’ve had? And if I’m unhappy, maybe I’m the creator of that, maybe I’m responsible for that. That’s not an easy thing to look at. That’s the last thing we want to do is say, ‘It’s my fault. If there’s a cloud in my life, I’m carrying it with me.’ That’s what Ebenezer Scrooge gets to take a look at. He gets the opportunity to change. That’s what I think makes it worth going to, and that’s why I think we’re drawn to it every year.”